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Despite conflicts with Russia, why Ukraine isn’t a bad place to invest

Local residents pushing a pram walk past an Ukrainian tank in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on July 8, 2014. Local residents pushing a pram walk past an Ukrainian tank in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on July 8, 2014.
Local residents pushing a pram walk past an Ukrainian tank in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on July 8, 2014. Genya Savilov — Getty Images

Several years ago, Ukraine was enjoying an explosive outsourcing boom. In 2011, they were even named the “Outsourcing Destination of the Year” by the European Outsourcing Excellence Awards. But with the country’s recent political turmoil and conflict with Russia, small businesses in the U.S. have begun to shy away from trusting Ukraine with their information technology, graphic design, and other vital work.

The hesitation is understandable, but it’s also a mistake.

I’m a bit biased; as someone who grew up in the Ukraine, I obviously care a great deal about its people. It’s important to me that the people in my home country have opportunities to find employment and a dependable income. I’ll gladly do what I can to help them become less dependent on Russia, which is part of the reason that I count several Ukrainians among my own employees.

But it’s not just about charity. Entrepreneurs who invest in Ukraine are doing more than just supporting democracy and helping people in need. They’re investing in cost-effective labor and innovative minds for their own business.

You might have recently heard about a surprising breakthrough in artificial intelligence: the first computer program to ever pass the Turing test. That program simulates the personality of a 13-year-old Ukrainian boy, and in fact, one of its developers was Ukrainian-born Eugene Demchenko. Demchenko is just one of the 16,000 new IT professionals that Ukraine produces every year, thanks to its prestigious technical schools and long history of technological ingenuity.

Ukraine’s situation is somewhat unique. For decades, the country served as the USSR’s technology hub. Although their economy is currently struggling, a solid tech infrastructure and a fantastic education system (one of the finest in Europe) is still firmly in place. Ukraine’s well-developed telecommunications, legal and tax systems and a stable rate of market growth make it a very attractive outsourcing option for businesses worldwide.

Presently, Ukraine is ranked fourth in the world for its number of certified IT specialists, according to a 2013 report of the National Commission for the State Regulation of Communication and Informatization of Ukraine.In fact, as of 2011, the country’s IT service exports have exceeded its arms exports. Even now, the Ukrainian government supports its IT sector with tax exemptions and public financing. Ukraine also boasts the highest public expenditures on education in East-Central Europe. The country is practically an untapped goldmine for small businesses looking for inexpensive yet highly professional employees.

In terms of the bottom line, Ukraine’s allure is undeniable. According to SupportUkraine.us (a recent initiative from Ukraine’s embassy, designed to encourage investment), companies that outsource to Ukraine are estimated to save between 40% to 75% of their budgets. Such spectacular value doesn’t come at the cost of a drop in quality; the Ukrainian graphic designers and programmers who work for my own company are some of my most valuable employees. I wouldn’t be where I am today if their work wasn’t consistently exceptional.

Ukraine also has plenty to offer from a cultural perspective. Ukrainians are earnest, hard-working people, and we don’t give up in the face of adversity. Nor do we overlook the importance of good manners and a friendly attitude. People are often surprised by how honest and transparent Ukraine’s people are; that’s an important trait to look for when outsourcing sensitive work overseas.

The country’s sense of dignity and professionalism can be traced back to its history of economic prosperity. That’s something that truly sets it apart from other popular outsourcing nations such as India and China, where cultural incompatibility can sometimes be a formidable challenge. Ukraine’s business culture is quite compatible with that of the U.S. since both of them have experience as a formidable world power. American businesses often find it easier to communicate with Ukrainians, many of whom speak and read English fluently.

What’s happening right now in Ukraine is awful, but it won’t last forever. I have faith that when this conflict is over, the people of my home country will come back stronger than ever. With so many people out of a job right now, this is a ripe opportunity for U.S. businesses to acquire some incredibly smart and dedicated employees at a low cost. And not only will you be helping your own company grow — you’ll be helping to save a nation.

Vladimir Gendelman is the Founder and CEO of Company Folders, a presentation folder printing company. He is also a member of the Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization of promising young entrepreneurs.